DECORAH, Iowa — After a smooth day of church visits and campaign stops, Gov. Rick Perry hit some unexpected bumps as audience members challenged him on hydraulic fracturing and allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
In what was supposed to be the final question of the final stop of the fifth day of his bus tour, Carrie Kauffman began to ask a question about the practice known as "fracking," which involves shooting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to aid in the retrieval of oil or gas.
Kauffman, a 22-year-old student at Luther College, a small, religiously affiliated liberal arts college in Decorah, told reporters later that she intended ask Perry, "Because fracking has been proven to pollute groundwater, how can he justify continuing with this obviously harmful [practice]?"
But she never got beyond "groundwater."
"No ma'am," Perry said, cutting her off. He contended that there had been no proven case of fracking polluting groundwater. "If that was true, it would be on the front page of every newspaper, it would be on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News — everybody would be running that story."
He said the American public was being "hoodwinked by stories that don't scientifically hold up."
When another audience member shouted that Perry was wrong, the governor said, "Bring me the evidence, and once we do that, you show it to me, and I'll be the first to say you've got a point."
Audio: Perry confronted on fracking
Afterward, Kauffman cited a draft report released by the Environmental Protection Agency after a three-year study prompted by local complaints contending that chemicals used in fracking have likely contaminated the groundwater in a remote Wyoming valley.
"If I had a smartphone, I would have looked it up right there," Kauffman said.
Perry has been highly critical of the EPA and the study has generated its own controvery. The Wall Street Journal has taken a look at it and, in an editorial posted minutes after Kauffman's run-in with the governor, concluded, "The good news is that the study is neither definitive nor applicable to the rest of the country."
The other good news for Perry is that Kauffman, a Minnesotan and a supporter of President Obama's, has no intention of caucusing with the Republicans in Iowa on Jan. 3rd.
Neither does fellow Democrat Todd Green, an assistant professor of religion at Luther College. Nor does Green's 14-year-old daughter Rebecka, who was upset by a recent Perry ad that many saw as anti-gay and went up to Perry after the event to ask him why he didn't support allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
(See video of the exchange below from The National Journal)
In his ad, Perry said, "There's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
The elder Green said the governor had the situation backwards. "Christians are not being persecuted in the United States of America. They’ve been in a position of dominance, power and privilege throughout the history of the United States of America," he said. "LGBT persons have not."
He also told reporters that he does not accept Perry's religiously tinged "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality.
"I have always hated that phrase; I think it’s impossible," Green said. "You show it by action. If you love the sinner, whatever that means, your policies should reflect that."
Generally, the Decorah audience was much less responsive than those at Perry's previous stops on Sunday. They didn't go for his reliable applause line about creating a part-time U.S. Congress and barely chuckled at his go-to retort, "Are you better off today than you were $4 trillion ago?"
Perry has just more than two weeks to strike the right notes with Republican caucus-goers before Iowans make their preferences known for the GOP nominee.